A Third Star: USA buries Japan to win Women’s World Cup

The 16-year quest for that third star is over, and it ended in as emphatic a fashion as anyone has ever seen. An avalanche of goals and a myriad of mistakes added up to an insurmountable 4-0 lead barely more than 15 minutes in, and the United States Women’s National Team went on to defeat Japan 5-2, to win the 7th FIFA Women’s World Cup in front of 53,341 in Vancouver as well as a record television audience, and avenge their loss in the final four years ago.

Having watched this tournament throughout, I saw little chance for Japan in this final but was I hoping so, or did I know so? Japan had won each of their six matches going in, all by one goal, and had been outplayed in most of them. They only arrived in the Final off a tragic own goal by England defender Laura Bassett in the 92nd minute of the semifinal, won by Japan 2-1. They were the beneficiary of a fortunate draw, none of the first four opponents had even played in a World Cup before, and the following two had gotten there through upsets.

The USA had come through the so-called ‘Group of Death,’ was faster, bigger, and seemed more skilled than Japan. When you feel you are the better team, it is always so important to assert your authority right from the start, squash the opponent and never allow them to get any belief they can win. The USA did that in spades on Sunday setting records along the way.

It started in the third minute. Off a set play on a corner kick, Megan Rapinoe played a low ball into the box, struck solidly by a running Carli Lloyd to put the U.S. up 1-0. It was only the beginning. Only two minutes later, off a free kick just outside the box, Lloyd found a deflected ball and put it home for a 2-0 lead less than five minutes in. Japan was uncharacteristically disorganized and the Americans had a look of fierce determination they were not going to lose.

While Japan was far from sharp, the U.S. team was perfect, with every pass firm and on target—as were the shots when they got them. The third successive shot to go in belonged to Lauren Holiday, with a beautiful volley from distance in the 14th minute, 3-0 USA. Less than two minutes after that, just as the clock passed 15 minutes, Lloyd noticed Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori off her line. Lloyd released a kick from barely inside the midfield stripe, said to be 54’4” away. It sailed over Kaihori who stumbled, barely got a finger to it, and it went in for the improbable and perfect goal, and a 4-0 lead.

The competitive phase of this match was over and though Japan fought valiantly, the matter had clearly been decided. They got a goal from Yuki Ogimi on a defensive breakdown in the 27th, and an own goal from U.S. defender Julie Johnston in the 52nd. But again the Americans responded in less than two minutes. Tobin Heath provided the final goal, and sighs of relief from the American fans, off a brilliant service from Morgan Brian.

The legend, Abby Wambach, made her final appearance in the 79th minute, Lloyd handing her the captain’s armband. She shared the lifting of the Cup with Lloyd and Christie Rampone who is also retiring. Wambach finishes with 183 international goals, most all-time by anyone, including 14 World Cup goals.